Ilwaco man takes invention as far as it will goIlwaco, Wash. - What can climb a 40-degree slope, travel through mud and snow, "spin surf" at 50 mph across waterways, lever itself over banks
and guard rails, and then drive down a highway at 60 mph, all without damaging the environment?
The Iguana - a high speed, low impact, all terrain amphibious vehicle David Hansen has spent the last 12 years perfecting in his workshop inside a big garage he rents from the Port of Ilwaco, Wash.
Tall and intense with a shock of gray hair, Hansen, 68, has degrees in aeronautical technology and industrial engineering and 25 years of experience as a sales engineer. He got the idea for his invention during business trips when he would look down from a plane and see 50,000 miles of snow-covered roads that no one could travel on in winter, and lakes that couldn't be crossed without a ferry or a boat.
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"I don't think there's a vehicle that can follow me," says Hansen, who has spent 12 years working on the Iguana."We've got plenty of room but we can't take advantage of it because we don't have adequate transportation. My dream is to improve that, to allow us all to have more room and to do it in a way that we don't harm anything and we don't tear things up," Hansen said, his mind racing as fast as his invention, which he hopes to sell to the military.
Partnering with Innovative Survivability Technologies of Santa Barbara, Calif., Hansen has submitted proposals for manned and unmanned versions of the Iguana, in sizes from 30 pounds to six tons.
"No one has ever invented a vehicle that you can control the attitude of the tracks and float and run over the surface of the water," Hansen said. "That's why I named it the Iguana - an iguana runs over mud and sand and grass and it doesn't make ruts."
Hansen's Iguana doesn't make ruts even though the latest version weighs about two tons. That's because it exerts less than a pound of ground pressure per square inch and has tracks like a tank, which are equipped with what Hansen calls "grousers."
He has redesigned the grousers six times.
"The idea is you're supporting a vehicle with the resistance to penetration of a rubber cone into the turf, or into the snow, or into the mud, rather than mashing things down. And then, when you need to maneuver, the end of the cone bends and becomes a little runner that glides through the material and doesn't dig a hole," Hansen explained.
The Iguana is designed in two sections and is very stable. It can lever up over an obstacle a foot high, Hansen said, which means it can accomplish what he said is often the toughest all-terrain feat - getting off the highway and across a drainage ditch or over a snow bank, a guard rail or a ledge.
Seven feet wide, 18 feet long and 51/2 feet high, with a four-speed automatic transmission, the Iguana is similar to a full size, four wheel drive SUV or pick-up truck that runs on quiet rubber tracks. It's like an SUV going backwards, Hansen said, so it can use parts that have already been designed, which makes it a lot cheaper.
There are several prototypes in the big garage. The one he's working on now is made of aluminum, designed with flat surfaces and angles to look something like a Stealth bomber. Hansen has done a lot of woodworking, but this is his first aluminum project.
"It bends and it moves and it's very forgiving and it's a lot of fun to work with," Hansen said. He used a Skil saw to cut it out of sheets of aluminum, tacked it together, then got a welder to weld it. "Then I grind it and polish and shine it and make it like I want it," he said.
Hansen's Iguana has attracted the attention of Jane's Defense Weekly, which sent Shaun Connors, its military vehicles and logistics editor, from England to see it go for a test drive last month at the Port of Ilwaco.
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Showing off his vehicle's capabilities, David Hansen drives the Iguana through a lake and up a grassy hill during a test in April."This is when it all comes together and you see if the dream you had on paper can work," Hansen said. Although mechanical problems prevented the demonstration from being completely successful, Connors wrote a detailed article about it, noting the Iguana is a concept vehicle with the ability to "'lever" its way up and over vertical obstacles" and to "spin surf" on the water's surface.
Hansen is on the list of bidders for Boeing's Future Combat Systems program, but so far he hasn't been able to attract company officials to Ilwaco for a demonstration.
"They're serious about what they want," Hansen said, "but I think they find it rather hard to believe they would find it in Ilwaco in a two-door shop. I think if they ever did, they would find out that I have the best technology, rather than General Dynamics or Lockheed-Martin."
Hansen is also looking at nonmilitary uses for the Iguana, such as search and rescue and medical recovery, where he said it would save lives and reduce trauma by providing transportation all the way from a remote accident site to a care center, without the need to move patients to a helicopter or ambulance. The Iguana could also be used by ranchers who need to check on their cattle in roadless areas and by forest rangers. And it could take people from a boat floating on the water, directly onto a highway.
An $80,000 grant from the U.S. Army helped Hansen develop the first prototype in 1996, the year he moved to Ilwaco. Since then, he said, "I've just survived by doing whatever I have to do to survive and build my machines." At present that includes operating a restaurant, The Canoe Room, which he owns with his wife, Rebecca, who manages it. It's located in what used to be the Rebecca Inn, the bed and breakfast the couple started out in.
"We decided we would rather live in the luxurious rooms and bathe in the Jacuzzi tub and read in front of the fireplace and sleep in the feather beds and not have people in our home 24 hours a day," Hansen said. So they turned their downstairs apartment into a restaurant and moved upstairs.
"In this area you kind of reboot every season," he explained.
Hansen and his wife met at Max's, a piano bar in Long Beach, Wash., where Hansen enjoyed singing. In fact, he came to the coast originally because he likes to sing in piano bars. After retiring from Sno-Cat in Medford, he sang in Portland, then at the Sandtrap Lounge in Gearhart, before moving to the beach. He still makes guest appearances at his own establishment, the Canoe Room.
Hansen hopes eventually to buy the building that houses his workshop from the Port of Ilwaco, remodel it and turn it into a research and development facility for Iguana Technology Inc. But he said it could be 10 years before he makes a profit.
"What I have to sell is my patents and my technology," Hansen said. "It's not like selling hamburgers."